From the basketball locker rooms to pastry school
It looked like Johanna le Pape was cut out for a career in sports. After studying sciences for her high school diploma, and with nine years of basketball and two French university championships in French boxing to her name, it seemed only natural that she would go on to study sports sciences.
At the age of 21, with a head full of ideas, Johanna Le Pape decided to leave France for the land down under: Australia. "To learn English, but also to open my mind," she says. It was there, somewhat by chance, that she went into a French pastry shop and ended up becoming its manager. But she spent most of her time in the kitchen.
By the time she came back to France, she no was no longer in any doubt: her future was in pastry. She therefore put an end to her Bachelor’s in order to devote herself to her passion. "I realised this was the only thing that I was really passionate about," Johanna Le Pape recalls. "There is an artistic side to pastry that I like, the transformation of the ingredients, and the pleasure of having an emotional impact on people."
In 2011, she began a Pastry CAP professional qualification in Marseille, before joining, nine months later, Alain Ducasse’s school for a two-month training, where she specialised in luxury pastry.
She started out in Colombes, with Stéphane Dassier. Then she joined the kitchens at the 5-star Parisian hotel Lutetia, first as a commis and then as a demi-chef.
There is an artistic side to pastry that I like, the transformation of the ingredients, and the pleasure of having an emotional impact on people
From the kitchens at the Lutetia to the most prestigious awards
With a competitive spirit and in need of a challenge, the young pastry chef decided to try out for the French pastry team in 2013 and applied to the Mondial des Arts Sucrés, a four-day competition during which 16 international teams compete to win the title of World Champion of Confectionary Arts.
She formed a duo with Gaëtan Fiard and the two pastry chefs began training: "Between November 2013 and March 2014, the date of the final, we worked at an extremely fast pace, between twelve and fourteen hours a day," recalls Johanna Le Pape. With intense tasting sessions and week-long mock exams, the training was tough for the two chefs. But it paid off.
In March 2014, Johanna Le Pape and Gaëtan Fiard won the competition.
In the wake of this success, the pastry chef joined Alain Ducasse’s prestigious school as a chef instructor, teaching lessons in French and English for amateurs and future professionals. "It was a very interesting year," she explains. "But at the end of it, I decided it was time to look for new opportunities."
Simply making pastry wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to develop an aspect that was barely mentioned at that time: that of well-being
From the Mondial des Arts Sucrés to a well-being pastry chef
Johanna Le Pape started consulting for companies like Ladurée and managed several projects at a time. But the pace was too intense and the pressure became too much. But today she describes the burnout she experienced in 2015 as a founding event. "It was what instigated the changes that I made in my life," she says. "I wanted to bring more meaning to what I was doing. Simply making pastry wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to develop an aspect that was barely mentioned at that time: that of well-being."
For the world champion, today's pastry is designed to resonate with its surroundings, and combine indulgence with well-being.
As a result, since 2016, Johanna le Pape has brought her expertise to the service of creation and professional training, at the heart of her project: healthy pastry.
Her new mantra? "To change the way we work and bring meaning to our practices so that we can enjoy ourselves without feeling guilty." Because, for Johanna Le Pape, "It is in the chef’s interest and it is their responsibility, in their role of feeding others, to bring meaning to their practice and reflect on their choice of ingredients."